Marc and I meet at a Maryland Joe & the Juice for a late-October chat about Movember, the infrastructure necessary to sustain Orthodox community, football on Shabbat, and the best croissants in Northern Virginia. Click here if you would like to support Marc’s Movember campaign to change the face of men’s health.
Samuel: What brought you to the DMV?
Marc: I was born in Maryland and went to University of Maryland. After spending the first 21 years of my life in the DMV, I was like: Alright, time to get out. I moved to Los Angeles for two years, then decided to come back.
Samuel: What has kept you and Sarah-Leah [Editor’s note: Marc’s wife!] here?
Marc: We really like the community that’s here. There are a lot of good people we call friends. There’s enough infrastructure to be Orthodox. It’s just a nice community full of nice people.
Samuel: I’m intrigued by the “infrastructure” you mentioned. What does DC have that other places maybe don’t?
Marc: A lot of people define Orthodoxy in different ways. The biggest thing, for me, is keeping kosher and Shabbat. You need to have the reasonable ability to purchase kosher food. Meat and cheese are hard to come by, especially meat, so being able to live near a chain that carries kosher [products] like Trader Joe’s, or the kosher markets around here, is a really big step. Beyond that, it also makes your life a whole lot easier to have a few kosher or vegan restaurants as fallbacks. You can’t cook every meal for yourself. Sarah-Leah and I have been championing Pastries by Randolph in Northern Virginia. Get a croissant. Get a Napoleon. Their challah is great, too.
The second bit is having a community of people within walking distance who also keep Shabbat. I don’t want to say Shabbat “by the book” – there are so many “books” – but keeping a more strict Shabbat with no driving, phones, electronics, writing, work. Doing it alone is really, really hard, and also not the point. The point is to be with people who are like you and to establish a community.
Samuel: How have you gone about building up your personal community?
Marc: This is not exaggeration: sports has been my big connector. When I was in LA, the first thing I did was find out if there were any Jewish games. I met most of my closest friends playing pickup basketball. Moving to DC, I quickly joined a pickup football game started by Jews on Shabbat afternoons that also plays at a park alongside a Jewish frisbee game. That also happens to be where you and I met, among plenty of other folks!
Samuel: We’re talking just before November begins, which I know is the start of Movember for you. Could you tell me about that project and your involvement?
Marc: The Movember Foundation is a men’s health organization that “changes the face of men’s health” by raising awareness and fundraising for prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and mental health. When caught early, [both] cancers have a very high survival rate, which is why it’s so important to have that awareness and get checked out.
I’ve been doing Movember for eight years. I’ve raised almost $20,000 now, including over $5,000 last year, which has been incredible. At this point, eight years in, people who know me know this is something I do.
Samuel: Eight years is a long time. Why is this mission something that resonates so deeply with you?
Marc: It’s [important] to have some love for men’s health issues because, a lot of the time, men feel less okay talking about their physical and mental health. Testicular cancer is the most commons cancer among young men, and it can be taboo to talk about, which is how the mustache can break the ice and start the conversation. Movember’s vibe is just having this conversation, spreading awareness, and having fun in the process. Being a little bit wacky, a little bit silly, you know, mustaches…
Marc: Yours notwithstanding. They’re coming back now! But eight years ago, no one had a mustache. As soon as I heard about it, and was able to grow facial hair, I did it. I like that they try to have fun, and I like that they like to do good.
Samuel: Growing up in the DMV, and now returning and building a life here, how would you say your personal Jewish practice has changed?
Marc: During a summer internship in Tel Aviv with TAMID, after my sophomore year of college, I remember having a conversation when we were at our place for Shabbat. It was me and a bunch of my friends who were not Orthodox. I was with them, but I still felt lonely. One person asked me: Why do you do all the things you do? Why do you keep Shabbat? Why do you keep kosher?
My first response was…I don’t know, my parents do it? Their parents did it? And [the person who asked the questions] was like: Is that enough for you to live your life like this? I had a really hard Shabbat grappling with that question, [asking myself] whether guilt, or inertia, or obligation is enough. Do you do things one way just because that’s the way you’ve been taught to do it?
My mind ebbed and flowed but, since then, I’ve been able to see what is important to me. One of the most valuable parts of keeping kosher or keeping Shabbat is the community aspect. When you keep kosher, you end up being around other people who keep kosher. We’ve all been there, asking for the kosher meal and meeting other people with whom we share an instant connection. You establish that community. If I didn’t have that, I feel like the world would open up, but also get smaller. I’d feel more lonely, like walking around in a city when you don’t know anybody. You’re around tons of people, but you feel so lonely.
That Shabbat in Tel Aviv, I had a solo meal, said Kiddush, made Hamotzi, ate quickly, and went back to hang out with my friends. I think that was the only time I’ve ever been alone for a Shabbat meal. It’s very, very rare for me to be solo for that. Whether I’m with just Sarah-Leah, with a group of our friends or family, or at an event with hundreds of people, that’s one of the things that keeps me going.
Samuel: That was beautiful, thank you. A few quick ones to close up. What’s something you’re bad at?
Marc: Putting myself out there. I describe myself as a shy extrovert. Sometimes, I can be hesitant to be the first one to put my hand out for a handshake, or to introduce myself to someone new. But once that ice is broken, even just a little bit, I like talking to people and being around people.
Samuel: I remember finding out that you had a cat, too, and being like: Oh, that’s my “in” with Marc. We can talk about our cats. How is Annabelle?
Marc: Cute and soft and playful as ever. She likes jumping on our [staircase’s] handrail, which is very smooth wood, so of course her claws can’t grip it. So she gets up there, and she’s shaking and always about to fall, but she’s insistent on going up. I really don’t know why.
Samuel: You can invite any three people to Shabbat dinner. Who are they and why?
Marc: I’ve thought about this a lot. I have my three ready to go: Shaquille O’Neal, Teddy Roosevelt, and my Bubbie. My Bubbie was one of the strongest people I’ve known. She was five feet tall (including two inches of hair), and she was strong-willed and a [Holocaust] survivor; she wrote a book. But she could talk to anybody and get their life story. She could make them feel welcome, heard, and seen, and she would absolutely love talking with those two. I would love to be with them. I would love to have another Shabbat meal with her.
Samuel: Last one. Finish the sentence: When Jews of the DMV gather…
Marc: Football ensues.
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